Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Givers Overload

I always cringe when I hear another high energy pastor say something like “I’d rather burnout than rust out.” The message being that pushing the pedal to the metal on a continual basis is something Jesus would be proud of; something you ought to wear as a badge of honor; or something every Christian should aspire to.

No one knows the temptation of allowing the needs of others drain your tank more than those who have a good heart and a little time for people. We already carry the weight of our friends’ burdens around our neck, we already spend countless hours holding hands, listening, praying, counseling…no one has to tell US that the needs of others come first! But do we give and give until we can’t give any more?

Being in the empty nest years, without kids underfoot (well, at least not continually), Becky and I have time we love to give to others. We don’t have to pick up the phone, it rings daily with someone wanting an hour or two here or there. Again, we welcome the chance lend an ear to a friend. But there are times when we’re “peopled out.” Not often, and never because the people we’re spending time with are burdens to us, but our love tank needle starts bouncing on “E.” Sometimes we fight our way through it and continue to meet the pressing needs of our friends. And sometimes we just have to schedule “nothing time” in our week.

If you’re a people person whose life finds joy and fulfillment in being with friends, then you must know what to do when you’re running on fumes:

1. Identify the signs of people fatigue. Irritability, loss of sleep, dread. Dread is the big one. When you think or say “Ugh” when another appointment is made, then you’re on people fatigue. People should mostly be a joy to be with and when it ceases to be so, it’s time to step back and reload.

2. When the phone rings and it’s someone else wanting your time, and you know you’re peopled out, we’ve just been honest: “Our tank is a bit empty and we need some time to refuel. We’d love to see you, but can it wait until…?” Unless it’s an emergency, and sometimes it is, most people understand and don’t mind waiting.

3. Some are more draining than others. Some folks are just super needy and yet seem to just want someone to whine to, more than a constructive conversation that encourages change or hope, or action. When this happens, it’s time to see if you can schedule them less often. It’s not that you’re trying to avoid needy people, but if after several months of attention on demand they’re still draining you dry, it may be a sign you’re not the one to help them turn an emotional corner.

Burnout is an awful thing. One of my old friends is Wayne Cordeiro, a pastor of huge church in Honolulu. He hit the wall with burnout a couple of years and it nearly cost him his life. He described himself as a “dead leader running.” He was quickly becoming no good to anyone. He wrote a book about his experience that ought to be required reading for any pastor or people helper called Leading on Empty. The key is not only building healthy boundaries, but understanding what it takes to fill your tank.

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